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Lifting Weights with Tennis Elbow Pain

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT March 13, 2020 0 Comments

dumbell row 

When the time is right, lifting weights with tennis elbow is an important part of the recovery process. However, it is crucial to understand how to lift correctly and when it is the right time to start. Keep reading to learn more about how to strengthen your elbow and forearm muscles.

Is it OK to Work Out with Tennis Elbow?

Using the muscles in your elbow with a good strengthening routine will promote circulation to the entire arm. This will expedite the healing of the affected inflamed tendons. The key is finding exercises that promote tendon health and minimize additional strain to the area.

In general, mild pain with exercise is expected and normally means you need to change your approach or modify, such as decreasing range, resistance with strengthening for tennis elbow. Alternatively, moderate to severe pain signals to stop the exercise altogether.

How to Lift Weights with Elbow Pain

When lifting weights with elbow pain, it’s important to start small and slow.  While paying close attention to your symptoms, you can gradually progress from there.

  • Consider starting your program with range-of-motion exercises for the elbow joint to decrease stiffness
  • If the elbow muscles feel tense and guarded then warm them up first with an elbow massage.
  • When initiating exercises, start with low weight, a light resistance band, or even no resistance.
  • To promote healing, do high repetition exercises to build endurance and promote blood flow (15 or more repetitions).
  • Keep good form with each exercise to minimize strain. Elbow kinesio taping can help with this.
  • Some soreness is normal, if you have soreness that lasts more than 24 hours, then modify it the next time you complete your program. 
  • Consider using an ice or heat pack after your exercise program to address any lingering symptoms and get pain relief.
  • If you’re not sure where to start, talk to your orthopedic doctor or consider a round of physical therapy.

Weight Lifting Exercises for Tennis Elbow

Whether you’re an athlete, such as a tennis player, or not the following tennis elbow exercises are a great place to start.  These will help address symptoms of tennis elbow and initiate your injury recovery process. 

  • Wrist Extension

    This exercise will strengthen your wrist extensor muscles. Find a comfortable place to support your forearm with the palm facing downward, such as sitting with your arm on your thigh or a table.  Holding a small weight (½ to 2 lbs), simply extend the wrist up toward the ceiling. Make sure only the wrist is moving. Keep the movement slow and controlled.

    Do 15-20 repetitions for 2-3 sets. Modify the weight to your comfort level.

  • Wrist Deviations

    Again, support the arm and choose a lightweight, if any. This time, hold the wrist in a neutral straight position (not bent or extended). Then, move the wrist side to side. The motion will be small. Alternatively, you can turn your hand so that the thumb is facing up and do the same motion as described.

    Complete 15-20 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

  • Forearm Supination/Pronation

    With the arm supported, hold a weight in the hand with the thumb facing up.  You will be holding the bottom of the dumbbell so that most of the weight is above your hand.  Then, slowly rotate your hand and wrist so that your palm is facing down. Return to the starting position, then rotate it in the opposite direction until your palm is facing upward.

    Move back and forth between these two positions 15-20 times for 2-3 sets. You can start without any weight if needed.

Elbow Pain During Exercise

Pain with tennis elbow is caused by inflammation of the forearm muscle tendons, also known as tendonitis. Treating tendonitis with exercise requires a unique balance. Proper movement will adequately stress the tendons of the outside elbow enough to promote blood flow and healing.  However, since these areas are inflamed it can also cause pain, even aggravation if overdone.

A great way to balance exercise is with elbow stretches and pain-relieving modalities.

Exercises to Avoid

The activities that initially caused your injury, typically due to overuse or repetitive motions, will probably need to be stopped or modified.

Here is a list of exercises to avoid to minimize strain and aggravation and maximize benefits of weight lifting for tennis elbow.

For more personalized education and recommendation, talk to a physical therapist or personal trainer.

  • Using a barbell.  It will promote muscle imbalances. Choose free weights instead.
  • Any exercise that requires full upper body strength (hard to modify), such as pull-ups, push-ups, and dips.
  • High-intensity exercises involved with cross-fit or TRX.
  • Any exercises that cause muscle guarding or onset of moderate to severe pain.
  • Exercises with the elbow straight or locked.  This increases strain on the forearm muscles.
  • Any movements that mimic what caused the injury (aka swinging).
  • Strength exercises that keep the palms facing downward, such as reverse biceps, side raises, and upright rows.

Staying Safe While Lifting Weights

As with any recovery program, tune into your symptoms to know what you should be doing.  If you experience any change in symptoms such as severe pain, numbness, tingling, or a decrease in hand or wrist strength talk, to a medical professional as soon as possible.  Recovery from an elbow injury is all about patience. With time and diligence, you will slowly be able to return to your previous level of activity.

Sources:

https://tenniselbowclassroom.com/exercise/can-you-still-work-out-with-tennis-elbow-injury/

https://tenniselbowclassroom.com/exercise/exercises-to-avoid-when-you-have-tennis-elbow/

SHOP TENNIS ELBOW PRODUCTS

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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